Playing defensive back in the "NCAA Football" series has always been somewhat dicey. As someone who grew up wishing he could dip his hand in stickum and be the next Lester Hayes, I want to be good at playing the virtual corner, but the moment you hesitate, the moment you flinch, there's no time to recover and you're watching the receiver burn you for six.
The Road to NCAA Football 10
Each Thursday over the coming weeks, ESPN Video Games will have exclusive interviews with the producers of EA's NCAA Football 10 as we track the game's development and progress towards the season's virtual opening kickoff.
March 19 : View to a Thrill
March 12: Custom Conferences
March 5: Super Sim's Comeback
This is what the developers at EA Sports Tiburon refer to as the "Manual Meltdown" and it's something they've watched gamers do for years in the defensive backfield. Whether it was man-to-man or zone coverage, once a gamer realizes they are out of position, first thing they do is change players in hopes the computer will help run their out-of-place corner or safety back to the right spot on the field.
But according to "NCAA Football 10" producer Russ Kiniry, all of this is about to change thanks to two intriguing updates that could revolutionize the way gamers play defense.
"The first thing we added is called Defensive Assist," explains Kiniry. "You hold down the A button while on defense and this will help move your defender in the correct position. This is really useful in zone or man coverage. When you play man coverage in our game, those first couple of steps, it's really difficult to figure out where the receiver is going. It's very difficult to react to the animations as quickly as a defender would in real life, and it's so difficult, in fact, that we find most people don't even want to try. What the Defensive Assist will do is the AI will take over the player you're controlling and help you cover the receiver. This is also huge in zone coverage because a lot of people don't understand exactly where their defender should be on the field. Now you hold down that Defensive Assist button and we're going to put you where that player would play.
"And while this is an assist, this is not a cheat, and that's a big point to make," adds Kiniry. "One of the biggest ways we're making sure this isn't a cheat is even if you hold that button down the entire time, your player won't got for a pick, he'll only go for a swat. The idea behind that is we want you to play the game, we just don't want to make it too difficult. This is more about putting you into the position to make plays, then, it's up to you to try and make the interception or go for the Hit Stick."
But that's not the only addition that will help shape the way people play defense as EA Sports is also adding Player Lock controls to both sides of the ball. Says Kiniry: "In simplest terms, you click the button and the camera flips around almost like the Campus Legend presentation. You can lock it on to a receiver and run routes, or in this case, you can lock it onto a defensive player like a corner back or a linebacker and it gives you the ability to focus on your one area. If you're playing the defensive line, it's nice to be able to turn the camera around and rush the quarterback from your perspective without having to worry about coverage. Your job is to get the quarterback.
"The amount of people who are actually using Player Lock at Tiburon is really staggering to me. I didn't think it was going to catch on as much as it has with the people who have been playing the game for years. But it has because it's such a fresh way to play defense. It's different, it's new, and it's cool to know that you controlled this one player all play long, you got in the right spot, then you made the play. It was you the whole time and you feel like you're making a difference. It's just an exciting way to make a play. And what's cool is you can click on and off of Player Lock every play and switch to different players. So one play you want to control a cornerback, you click down the left stick pre-snap, then you're the corner for that entire play. But say the next play, you want to play as a linebacker, you just cycle through your players pre-snap, select the linebacker, and you're ready to go."
And when you combine the Defensive Assist and Player Lock together, that's when the defensive magic really happens.
"You combine the two, and playing corner all of a sudden is a lot of fun," says Kiniry. "Click on the corner, then use the assist at the beginning to see where the play is going. Then if you recognize the route, you can try to jump it, or when the ball is in the air, you can jump up and try to make a play. Or think about being a safety where you use the assist to get in position, then with the Player Lock camera you see the ball coming in toward the receiver and you time it right -- boom! -- you knock the ball out. And the Hit Stick animations look a lot cooler when the camera is behind you like it is in Player Lock. That's one thing we don't slack on, our tackles."
Adds Kiniry: "Both of these new features are cool on their own, but when used in conjunction, it's really a lot of fun and it really changes the way you play defense ... for the better."
Now if only my characters could find some virtual stickum, I'd be set.
For more information on NCAA Football 10, check out the Inside EA Sports Blog: http://insideblog.easports.com/